We do Science not only because it's fun, but because it is a unique opportunity to discover something new, to increase knowledge, to help others and make this place a better world.
Yes, Science is fun and it is the reason why I did a PhD in the first place. Because pushing the boundary of knowledge is exhilarating and because your skills and knowledge are challenged everyday.
But there is another reason why we do Science, and you never want to forget about it. We do Science because we owe it to the people. There are 50 millions people addicted to drugs, alcohol or tobacco in the U.S. If you count the families that's a combined 205 millions people that are directly affected by substance use disorders.
There are treatments available, but they have often poor efficacy or poor compliance. We need a better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for drug addiction, we need more therapeutic approaches, we need better medications, we need better outreach, and we need better policies to prevent addictions.
You work can directly make a difference, and even if you don't think that you can make a difference, you have a duty to try every day because we are funded mostly by the taxpayer. We owe them to do better everyday.
So what's your goal?
First, I can tell you what it's not, It's NOT to advance your career, it is NOT to please your PI, it is NOT to publish in a glamourous journal, it is NOT to be better than your peers. All these are instead consequences of achieving your REAL goal, but they should NOT be your goal.
Your real goal is to produce RIGOROUS, RELIABLE, REPRODUCIBLE research. Hypothesis should be clearly testable, experimental designs have to be well-thought, control groups have to be included at all time, interpretation of the data should not be biased, and every procedure and data should be reported in a notebook.
If you do all these, if you keep your eyes on the real goals then you will advance your career, you will please your PI, and you will publish this fancy paper.
Ok I get the point, so now, how do I do that?
Think like a philosopher Know your stuff, read the literature, read the manuals, go to seminars, ask questions, listen, question the answer, question your belief, ask again more questions. Formulate new questions, enunciate solutions. Refuse answers that are not logical.
Train like an athlete: Practice and practice again until that procedure is second nature to you. Use the best techniques, the best tools, the best approaches to answer your questions. Learn new skills. Don't be afraid to fail.
Dream like an artist: See the beauty in Science, see the elegance of an experimental design, the attractiveness of a figure, the symmetry of the experimental groups. Be creative, be original, be BOLD. Try things that have never been done before. Think outside the box.
Work as a team: If something is broken, don't blame people, help people fix it. Gives credit when it is due. Collaborate, share your findings, give time to help others, teach others, do not withhold information but disseminate information. We stand on each other’s shoulder, we don't step on each other’s toes.
Care like family: We live together all week, and often weekends. There will be time when someone will be down, when someone will be rude, when someone will not do the right thing. Don't blame, don't accuse, don't shame, don't ignore your people. Care for them like family. Bring them up, encourage them, raise awareness, show them the right way, respect them.
Be open, be free: You do not need my permission to talk about your data, be free to talk to anyone about your most exciting results. The best science comes from interaction with others. Collaborate instead of compete and you will always win.
Put it on paper: If you think of great ideas, write them down. If your science is not written up, if it is not published in one form or another, then it doesn't exist, because the world doesn't know about it. Write it up. Produce something. Put a poster together, write a blog post, submit it to a peer-review journal or to bioRxiv. Perfection can be the enemy of productivity. Give yourself hard deadlines, do your best in that amount of time and move one. Better done than perfect. There is always time to improve once it is finished.
Be honest, be ethical: Data is data. Do not manipulate data. I repeat Data is Data. Do not alter it in anyway. The worst service you could do to yourself is manipulating data. It will jeopardize your career and the work of many scientists. If the data you get is not what you were expecting, so what? it just means that there is a lot more to discover, you have moved forward, it's exciting.
Be critical: Do not accept data at face value. Data is data. It is always true, BUT it does not mean that it measured what it was supposed to measure. Sometimes your equipment is faulty, sometimes your animals are sick, sometimes your surgeries are not perfect, sometimes your antibody is not specific, sometimes someone will use a demolition hammer for 2h in your room right before your experiments. If your data do not look right, investigate possible causes. Isolate them and test again. Replicate your data, if you can't replicate it, and can't find the causes of failed replications then you are better off studying something else. Solid, reproducible research is the only way to go.
Be a human: I have no interest in working with little robots who work 365 days a year and have no private life. Go out, discover the world, hangout with your friends and family, have hobbies, enjoy life, socialize, laugh, exercise, resource yourself. Science is a huge part of my life, it is more than work, it is a passion, but it is not the only one. Find your balance.